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Familiar ring
Same-sex couples flocking to Bay State altars prove that gay and straight pairings are more similar than different

IT HAS BEEN one whirlwind of a week, complete with tears, cheers, and all-around jubilation. On May 17, the first day of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, gay and lesbian couples began filing for licenses and getting hitched. And they haven’t stopped yet. As millions of people across the country turned their attention to the Bay State, hundreds of same-sex couples lined up at Boston-area municipal buildings to apply for marriage licenses in those initial 24 hours. The three-day waiting period to receive the actual licenses expired on May 20, resulting in a throng of gay weddings across the state ever since.

Already, these newlywed couples have gone about their business at home and at work. They have tended to their children. They have cared for their pets. They have carried on in their everyday lives as any straight married couple would do. Still, the fact that they are legally married always hovers in the back of their minds. The fact that gay and lesbian couples can now choose to wed remains with them — a source of hope and inspiration for the future. Here are six local same-sex couples — planning to tie the knot or already married — who are still basking in the glow.

Two publicists in a pod

Gail and Betsy Leondar-Wright would tell you that their own wedding — held on Sunday, May 23, at the historic Whittemore-Robbins House, in Arlington — was all about making a statement. It was about commemorating the cultural moment when Massachusetts finally put homosexual couples on an equal footing with their heterosexual counterparts. Which explains why their nuptials featured more of the political than the personal. Rather than a bridal processional, for instance, there were civil-rights songs. Instead of flowers, there were state flags. As Gail explains, "The focus of this ceremony is not on us so much as on this social change."

Leave it to the Leondar-Wrights — two publicists by profession, two social activists by nature — to emphasize their wedding’s political message. After all, Gail, 46, operates a public-relations firm specializing in progressive books out of the couple’s Arlington home, while Betsy, 48, works as the communications director for the liberal-leaning nonprofit organization United for a Fair Economy. The pair couldn’t help but view their civil marriage – attended by 180 gay-marriage supporters, including State Representatives Jim Marzilli and Anne Paulsen — as the chance, Gail says, "for all those excited about this moment to share in our joy."

Of course, last Sunday’s nuptials also celebrated what the Leondar-Wrights consider to be an "extraordinarily matched" union. The two first met in 1989 at Achyot Or ("sisters of light"), a Jewish-feminist retreat. At the time, both were attached to other women, but took to each other as friends. When Betsy tried to teach the group an anti-apartheid song, the alto singer found herself struggling to reach the soprano notes. "I lost it," she recalls — until, that is, Gail came to the rescue. "She jumped up and said, ‘I’ll help you,’" Betsy recalls. "But she did it in a way that didn’t embarrass me, which I thought was gallant."

By 1991, their friendship had blossomed into romance. And within six months, Gail left New York to move in with Betsy in Springfield. The two even sent a letter to friends and family members declaring, presciently, that they intended to be life partners.

"We moved fast," Gail observes. "It was like that joke about lesbians."

"It’s legendary," Betsy continues.

"What do lesbians bring on a second date?"

"A U-haul."

By 1994, after squirreling away a dollar a day for more than three years to pay for it, they cemented their union with a commitment ceremony. They invited 65 relatives and friends for a three-day weekend at a Western Massachusetts retreat center, where they exchanged vows under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy. "We’re already committed to each other in the eyes of God," Betsy says. Now, she and Gail are also joined in the eyes of society at large.

After 13 years together, they couldn’t wait to tie the legal knot. "You might think that we’ve forgotten to see our relationship as special," Betsy says, but not a week has passed that "I haven’t felt deep love for [Gail], deep admiration for the fine human being she is, and deep gratitude that I get to be her life partner."

The family men

When Arthur Lipkin and Robert Ellsworth talk about "family values," they aren’t just paying lip service to social conservatives’ favorite catchphrase. For nearly two decades, the long-time couple has shared their two-family Cambridge home with relatives in need. Lipkin’s parents resided on the second floor until his father died, in 1988; his mother stayed until her death seven years later. And when a fierce 1990 storm damaged the Marshfield home of Ellsworth’s grandmother, they took her in for 730 days.

Not surprisingly, the couple of 19 years finds it "ironic" that gay-marriage opponents accuse gay men and lesbians of trying to destroy the family. For the longest time, Lipkin points out, "We were feeling like the sandwich generation."

Today, family remains a prominent part of their lives, although its numbers have dwindled over time. At their May 21 wedding, a modest and intimate affair, Lipkin’s two cousins and their husbands drove up from Providence to serve as witnesses. Cambridge state representative Alice Wolf — who qualifies as family, since she has been Lipkin’s friend for 30 years — performed the ceremony.

Lipkin, 57, a former English teacher at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (he was the first openly gay public-school teacher in Massachusetts), met Ellsworth, 43, at a 1985 fundraiser for the Lavender Alliance, a gay-and-lesbian political organization in Cambridge. Introductions were short, sweet, and unmemorable. Lipkin might never have encountered Ellsworth again were it not for some friends who stood him up the following night at Buddies, a now-defunct gay bar in Boston. While waiting in vain for his friends to arrive, Lipkin spotted Ellsworth. The two fell to talking, as the adage goes, and then to dancing. Recalls Lipkin, "Disco ‘Madame Butterfly’ was the highlight of the meeting."

At midnight on May 17, Lipkin and Ellsworth were among the joyous couples waiting to apply for marriage licenses at Cambridge City Hall. After nearly 12 hours in line, the two became the fourth same-sex couple to fill out a marriage application in the state. Lipkin also delivered an impassioned speech before an enthusiastic crowd of gay men and lesbians at a city celebration. When the couple finally walked the receiving line that formed outside City Hall, they felt as though they had "just floated down the stairs," says Lipkin. Referring to Ellsworth’s edict against talking to reporters (including this one), he adds, "Bob was put off his guard and actually spoke to the media. He said he wished everyone who got married could have the feeling of community support that he felt."

Now that the revelry has ended and the two are legally hitched, they are contemplating what exactly to call each other. They’ve entertained using the words "spouse" and "husband." But then, Lipkin notes, "The state has made it totally easy on us. I’m ‘Party A’ and Bob is ‘Party B.’" So, he quips, "When I introduce Bob I can say, ‘I want you to meet Party B.’"

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Issue Date: May 28 - June 3, 2004
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